March 26, 2023

Bits Blog: Twitter to Add Photo Filters to Compete With Instagram

Illustration by Nick Bilton/The New York Times

Twitter is finally learning a lesson from Facebook: If you can’t buy it, build it.

In the coming months, Twitter plans to update its mobile applications to introduce filters for photos that will allow people to share altered images on Twitter and bypass Instagram, the popular mobilecentric photo-sharing network, according to people who work at the company but asked not to be named as they are not allowed to discuss unannounced projects. The filters on Instagram make photos look like they were shot with 1960s Kodachrome or with 1890s sepia tone film.

Although adding photo filters to Twitter may seem like a trivial addition to a social network that processes nearly a billion 140-character missives every two days, it could prove to be an important part of the company’s business.

As most smartphones are now equipped with high-resolution cameras, photography and mobile devices go together like peas and carrots. Flickr, which was once the go-to photo-sharing site on the Web, has since seen an exodus of people who have opted for Facebook or Instagram. Twitter has proved to be very popular among advertisers who want to reach people on smartphones, where the company’s audience tends to flock.

Carolyn Penner, a Twitter spokeswomen, declined to comment.

According to one Twitter employee, the company’s V.I.T.’s, or Very Important Tweeters, as they are known internally, usually celebrities and media personalities, would be especially happy to see filters in the Twitter mobile apps. Most V.I.T.’s now use Instagram to take photos, and then share them on Twitter, where they often have a larger following.

Although Twitter considered a photocentric product acquisition for some time, the move to build its own filters was hastened after Facebook said it would buy Instagram for $1 billion. (The deal ended up closing at $715 million after Facebook’s precipitous stock drop.)

After the Instagram acquisition was announced, Twitter executives explored buying a competing photo service or application. Jack Dorsey, the company’s co-founder and executive chairman, and Dick Costolo, Twitter’s chief executive, both led the search, people close to the executives said. After meeting with and appraising some companies, Twitter’s executives decided the price tags were not worth the goods, and decided the company could build its own filters instead.

Although Twitter inked a deal with the photo-storage site Photobucket in June, the company has since started storing images on its own servers.

Twitter is exploring adding other tools to its mobile applications, one employee said, including the ability to upload and possibly edit videos without having to go through a third-party application or service, like YouTube.

Sadly, the Twitter-centric photo filters are not expected to be named after birds.

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